Bhavna watched incredulously as her neighbour produced a snakes and ladders board and placed the two pieces at the starting point. The fact that he was serious about playing board games as opposed to going out on a date made her question how on Earth had she developed romantic feelings for him. But then she saw his eyes lift sheepishly to meet her penetrating gaze, and his cheeks flush and puff. She could never stay mad at that face. Stupid cute baby face, she thought as she smiled.
“Did you read the news about that prominent industrialist Wadiya being shot in his home? It’s believed to be the work of a hitman. It’s the second such case in as many weeks. Can you believe it? Snipers in Delhi!” said Ranjit. Bhavna noticed the childlike fascination on his face. She merely shrugged. “I can’t imagine how it must feel.”
“To be shot in the eye?” she asked.
“What? Who says he was shot in the eye?”
“Who says he wasn’t,” said Bhavna with another shrug.
“No, I meant how it must feel for the killer. To wield that power over another, to live that life of secrecy, with one eye watching their back, staying one step ahead of the law enforcers.” He smiled as he said so, though Bhavna couldn’t decide if it was instead due to him climbing a ladder that almost took him to the finish.
“Gosh, I didn’t know I’m dating a 14-year-old girl!”
“Paedo,” said Ranjit chuckling as he rolled the dice.
“That’s only if we ever get intimate. I hope you go down,” she said, waiting for the dice’s verdict.
“So do I,” he said, affecting an erotic smile.
“Jeez, what’s with all these raunchy remarks? Is that how you bed a beautiful lady?”
“I was only hoping to win a fervid kiss, but I won’t mind!” She threw him a scrutinizing gaze, letting it linger for added effect.
“If you win the game with this roll of dice, you get your kiss,” she said, casting her to the board. She didn’t need to look to know that his face had shot up. “But if you don’t, you go down. Down to your house,” said Bhavna in her typical icy manner. Ranjit gulped and watched the staggering dice. The rain outside paled against its drumroll. It sounded more like roulette, but to Ranjit, it seemed like Russian roulette.
After a century’s worth of two seconds, he felt elated. Fate had smiled on him, and he jumped in jubilation. But the bookshelf behind him, the obsessive possessive boyfriend that it was, knocked him out cold.
Time raced away from him.
He woke up in Bhavna’s bed. A surge of pain shot through the back of his head as he got up. He looked around the room for her. An unrestrained fart, followed by the most characteristic plops announced her whereabouts. Somehow, it discomforted him more than the searing pain.
Ranjit got up and walked about the house. It had stopped raining and he decided to open the window in her living room, hoping a breath of fresh air would do him good. His head was slightly spinning and he held the pane to steady himself. He noticed her camping bag behind the few plants sitting under the window. Ranjit recalled seeing her wearing it whenever he ran into her as she returned home. He wondered what a gardener kept in their bag.
The weight of the bag piqued his interest further, but what it revealed sent his head spinning like a top. He heard the flush from the bathroom, which accentuated the sinking feeling he felt within. Bhavna froze midway zipping her jeans on seeing him. Her rifle wasn’t pointing at her, but she had never felt so vulnerable.
“W-Wadiya?” asked Ranjit with shaking hands and trembling lips.
“Industrialist,” said Bhavna with a nod as she sauntered towards to him.
“Bullet to t-the head?”
“Through the eye,” she said taking the rifle from his hand and putting it down beside her. The sight of him quivering with trepidation made her want to reach out and touch his face.
And so she did, but not with her hands.
“I hope our first kiss is not our last,” she said after letting go. He had stood stupefied, almost as still as a mannequin. She felt despicable.
Although Ranjit had won the wager and Bhavna held up her end of the bargain, he went down nevertheless. He felt suffocated and immediately went for the window. But windows reminded him of snipers and he sprang away from it; away from the field of view of providers of untimely deaths.
He took off his shirt and trousers, freeing himself from their suffocating grip. Nothing could pacify him. Not pacing around the room for over an hour. Not the coquettish breeze that flew in from the other room. Not the packet of cigarettes he smoked away. The darkening sky lamented for him.
He weighed his options. Did we have any options? Would she let him be if he stayed put? Would she gun him down if he blabbed to the authorities? Would it be their last kiss?
Ranjit cupped his face when the last thought flashed in his mind. The cigarettes had surprisingly failed to rid his lips of her taste.
Time lagged behind him.
He didn’t know when his legs took him up. One moment he was thinking of her, the next moment he was seeing her. His head was buzzing with questions, but he could only register the face in front of him. There was only desperate hope in those eyes.
“You know I don’t talk to men wearing chaddis,” she said, trying to force a smile, failing miserably.
“I’m not here to talk,” he said as he touched her like she had touched him. He remained true to his word, only opening his mouth to speak ten minutes later. He wasn’t wearing his boxers.
“Paedo,” he said.